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Under My Umbrella: Meet Your Sun Saviour

May 12, 2024

5 min read

Can umbrellas transform your summer? They sure can! Meet the sun protection that can help you achieve a healthy, balanced approach to enjoying the outdoors without sacrificing your skin's wellbeing.

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Two umbrellas are positioned under a brilliant sky.
Picture of author Madhavi Dhobale



Rihanna’s mega-hit might have highlighted rain, but as it turns out, our grandmother’s advice of carrying an umbrella in summer might not be as ‘uncool’ as you once thought. India's summer months are characterised by intense solar radiation. High temperatures cause significant heat stress, while ultraviolet (UV) radiation levels peak. Excessive sunlight and UV radiation exposure are critical public health concerns because sun UV exposure can harm skin both acutely and over time. And no, sunscreen might not be enough, no matter how diligent you are about reapplication. 

Sun exposure is essential for vitamin D, but too much of it can lead to sunburn, sun tan, premature ageing, and even heatstroke. There are ways we can safeguard ourselves from the UV rays that cause our body harm. One of the most readily available tools is the humble umbrella. Sure, umbrellas help us keep dry on rainy days, but they can be your secret weapon against the scorching sun too. Regular use of umbrellas offers sun protection to a limit, but specially designed sun umbrellas with darker fabric or a UPF rating can block an even higher percentage of harmful rays. 

The word umbrella is derived from the Latin word umbros, which means shadow or shade. Believe it or not, they started as sun protectors for royalty and elites in ancient civilisations like Egypt and China. These early umbrellas were large and often held by helpers. Over time, materials like oiled paper made them waterproof, allowing rain protection.

What is the impact of sun rays on human health?

Sunlight is a vital part of our environment, but its rays hold a complex influence on human health. 

Vitamin D production: Sunlight is essential for synthesising vitamin D in the skin. Vitamin D is critical for bone health, regulating calcium absorption and promoting bone growth. It also strengthens the immune system and supports muscle function.

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We get more Vitamin D in the morning; however, during the daytime, we have a meagre amount of Vitamin D synthesis.

Dr Purushottam Ghuse, MD, Skin & VD

Improved mood and sleep: Sunlight exposure helps regulate the body's natural sleep-wake cycle by suppressing melatonin production during the day. Additionally, sunlight exposure may be connected to better mood and decreased symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Hair health: UV rays can weaken hair strands, making them very dry, brittle, and prone to breakage. UV light is a type of electromagnetic radiation invisible to the human eye that can harm skin and hair by mutating the skin cell DNA. Dr Ghuse, adds that UV rays can damage hair roots, which may lead to hair loss.

Premature skin ageing: Sunshine might feel good, but too much can bring unwanted consequences. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the biggest culprit, with its invisible rays that impact our skin. Overexposure leads to sunburn, the painful reddening and inflammation you experience after too much sun exposure. But sun damage goes deeper than a sunburn. UV rays break down skin’s collagen and elastin and the fibres that keep it plump and youthful. This further accelerates wrinkles, sagging, and leathery skin, leading to premature ageing. 

Skin cancer: Overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation in sunlight may cause skin cancer. UV rays damage skin cells, leading to mutations that can trigger uncontrolled growth and cancerous tumours. Dr Ghuse says that sunlight can also cause melasma, or skin pigmentation, early ageing, and in some cases, skin cancer.

Eye damage: UV rays can penetrate the eye, damaging the lens and cornea that may lead to cataracts. Cataracts impair vision by making the lens cloudy and opaque. Macular degeneration can also occur; this involves a breakdown of the macula that is responsible for sharp central vision.

Immune system suppression: Excessive UV exposure may overpower the immune system's capacity to fight diseases and infections. While the exact mechanisms are still under investigation, research suggests UV radiation can sometimes impair the function of immune cells.

Dehydration and brain function: Dehydration and sunlight are dangerous, especially during hot weather. When dehydrated, the brain doesn't receive the blood flow and oxygen it needs to function optimally. This can lead to difficulty concentrating, fatigue, headaches, and decreased alertness. Dehydration can also affect mood, making you irritable or anxious.

Heat stroke: Sun exposure contributes to heat stroke due to prolonged exposure to high temperatures.

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Heat stroke is defined by symptoms, such as excessive sweating, dryness of the mouth, low blood pressure leading to dizziness, pain in the abdomen, loose motion, sudden weakness, and vomiting, all caused due to excess heat and dehydration.

Dr BD Kurkute, BAMS at Prabhat Clinic

Umbrellas can double as sun shields, offering a portable patch of shade to chill under. Some even have a special block to zap those sunburn-causing rays. Not only will you feel cooler, you will also lower your risk of overheating.

What are the precautions to take while exposing ourselves to the sun?

Dr Kurkute suggests:

  • Avoid sun exposure between noon to 3pm due to extreme heat.
  • Always use caps or umbrellas to avoid UV ray exposure.
  • Drink lots of fluids to avoid electrolyte imbalance. Excessive sweating with electrolyte imbalance can lead to muscle cramps. 
  • Always carry a water bottle while travelling and keep yourself hydrated.
  • Use umbrellas with a dark colour, not light, because light colours allow the rays to pass easily; however, black ones with linings do not allow rays to pass.

Dr Ghuse suggests: 

  • Use a black or dark umbrella and wear light-coloured clothes.
  • If we use sunscreen and umbrellas together, it will be more beneficial.
  • Adequate nutrition is required to protect hair health.
  • Facewash, cleansers and moisturisers must be used during summer to avoid severe skin infections.
  • Any skin pigmentation should be treated by visiting a dermatologist.

While sunshine provides essential vitamin D and lifts our mood, overexposure can lead to various health concerns. Sunscreen is a crucial defence, but umbrellas offer an additional layer of protection. Choose umbrellas with a UPF rating of 50+ for maximum UV protection. Remember, umbrellas are a fantastic complement to sunscreen, not a replacement. They offer broader coverage than hats, shielding your shoulders, arms, and upper back. And unlike seeking shade that isn't always available, you have your own personal sun protection zone.

So, next time you head out on a sunny day, remember to pack your sun protection essentials—sunscreen and a stylish sun-blocking umbrella.

Medically Reviewed by:
Dr Sujata Chakravarti - Family Physician and trainer

Picture of author Madhavi Dhobale

Madhavi Dhobale is a medical writer who has written on various medical topics in the healthcare, diagnostics and pharma industries. She has successfully managed business operations encompassing key account relationship management, providing one-stop solutions, conducting in-depth market analyses, and developing new markets.

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